‘Eyes on the ground’: Dozens gather for spotter training ahead of spring storm season

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LIBERTY, Mo. — They’re typically the ones who get the first glimpse or the first incredible video of a tornado, golf ball-sized hail or spectacular lighting strikes when bad weather strikes a community.

“I really do like being ready for emergencies,” said Cathy Gabel of Trimble, Missouri.

Two years ago, an EF-2 tornado ripped through the Smithville area, destroying homes and businesses and leaving behind massive damage.

The big storm caused $40,000 damage to Gabel’s home. Ironically, that day Gabel was in a National Weather Service Storm Spotter Training Seminar.

On Monday night, she and about 200 others packed the theater at the Liberty Community Center to strengthen their skills or learn how to become first-time storm spotters.

“It’s good training. I do feel like I can recognize bad situations now. I’ve been doing the storm spotting now for more than 10 years,” Gabel said.

In addition to teaching the moms, dads, kids and grandparents how to take life-saving precautions when a severe storm hits, the seminar also stressed that, as storm spotters, the volunteers instantly become “eyes on the ground” for metro meteorologists and the National Weather Service.

“I enjoy it a lot,” Gabel said.

“They are extremely effective and helpful to us,” FOX4 meteorologist Joe Lauria said.

Lauria also said, in the midst of a powerful, unpredictable storm you can never have too many eyes.

“They are by far one of the most important pieces to this whole thing,” Lauria said. “If radar ever went down, we will rely on them to give, what we call, ground truth.”

But of course, the NWS training touches on staying safe and out of the path of a dangerous storm.

“The bottom line with storm spotting: We want them to do it safely,” Lauria said.

On Tuesday, NWS will hold another Storm Spotter Training Seminar at the Park Hill High School Auditorium at 7701 N.W. Barry Road in Kansas City. It will begin at 7 p.m.

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